Hongbao

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Hongbao (simplified Chinese: 红包; traditional Chinese: 紅包) or red envelope is a an envelope with money inside. In China, people give the envelope as a gift for special occasions. The red envelopes are most commonly given to children or single/unmarried adults during the Chinese New Year celebration, where Chinese families often gather together.[1]

The red packet is also called “money warding off old age” (压岁钱; yāsuì qián) during Chinese New Year.

Outside of China, similar customs have been adopted or are traditional across parts of Southeast Asia and many other countries with a sizable ethnic Chinese population. In the mid-2010's, a digital equivalent to the practice emerged within messaging apps with mobile wallet systems.

Origin of The Hongbao[change | change source]

According to Chinese legend, in ancient times there was a demon or evil fairy named Sui (祟). Legend says that Sui is totally black, except for its colorless, transparent hands. Sui—according to the said legend—appears every Chinese New Year’s eve and would touch a sleeping child’s head, causing mental illness.[2][3]

This is why Chinese New Year celebration is practiced by staying up late during the new year’s eve, called Shousui or translated as “waiting for Sui”.

So, the elderly people started to thread coins with a red string, called ya sui qian or “money to suppress Sui”. The coins were given to children to entertain them, and to keep them awake to avoid Sui’s touch.

According to the same legend, eight noble fairies turned themselves into eight coins, protecting the children from Sui. Thus, the story spread and everyone started to follow the same practice to protect the children. Over the years, the ya sui qian was replaced with the red envelopes—the hongbao.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Hongbao (China) - Global Informality Project". www.in-formality.com. Retrieved 2021-09-04.
  2. "The Origin of The Hongbao". China Market Advisor. 2021-07-11. Retrieved 2021-09-04.
  3. jknotts (2021-02-01). "Battle of the Red Packet: The Meaning Behind the Hongbao We All Know and Love". www.thebeijinger.com. Retrieved 2021-09-04.